With “normal” finally within sight, brokers and their customers are coming to grips with the ripple effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on every aspect of the health care industry — and, in many respects, how America does business.
Not only were health care providers affected, but those connected to the health care industry – such as insurers and brokers – also experienced significant shifts in how they address the needs of their customers and employees. Employers, too, are facing new challenges — how to keep employees engaged when they’re working remotely, how to ensure they’re getting the care they need on a timely and cost-effective basis, and how to retain those employees in the months ahead.
To investigate how brokers are responding to these challenges, DirectPath recently commissioned a survey of more than 100 health insurance brokers. Questions included how their business models are likely to evolve as a result of the pandemic’s aftermath, as well as which services they are currently offering, and which deliver the most business value.
What Brokers Are Doing
Employee appreciation of their benefits package is a key element of their satisfaction with and loyalty to their employers. With nearly three-quarters of survey respondents noting that clients struggle with employees’ perception of the value of benefits plans and their overall satisfaction with those plans, many employers have asked brokers to equip them with educational materials, tools and technology to help address these challenges.
The health care industry is notoriously complex to navigate – and most consumers have not needed to do so for at least a year, as preventive and elective care services were postponed by the pandemic. As employees begin rescheduling those all-important appointments, it’s more important than ever that they understand how to use their benefits. By helping their clients develop communications campaigns to refresh employees on the basics, or by bringing in partners such as benefits educators and advocacy firms to provide personalized assistance, brokers can help employees chart a course to better health.
Perhaps the most significant topic brokers can address is the concept of shopping for care – something 67% of consumers don’t know is even an option. In 2020, patients who shopped around for care saved more than $21,000 on joint replacements, more than $11,000 on arthroscopic procedures and more than $2,000 on colonoscopies. According to DirectPath’s recent survey, 83% of brokers are providing some sort of health care transparency and clinical advocacy services to help employers contain costs, which another 23% plan to add to meet the growing demand.
The demand traditional broker services is still high – including compliance and reporting needs (40%), employee education (24%), technology innovations (12%), and managing pharmaceutical costs (12%). However, employers are searching for new and different approaches to help them manage costs and attract and retain talent. Of particular interest are health care transparency and clinical advocacy (brokers report interest is up 9% from 2019, to 83%) and benefits communications (up 5% from 2019, to 95%). Meanwhile, demand for personalized benefits education and enrollment support fell 6% to 79%. This showcases that, while a significant majority of clients rely upon brokers to deliver benefits education and enrollment support, there has been a shift in focus from helping consumers choose their benefits, to helping consumers use their coverage.
To meet this shifting demand, 79% of brokers are focusing on providing superior customer service to differentiate themselves from the competition. This has included expanding services to include voluntary benefits – especially those that address top of mind concerns for employees, like infectious disease riders and income protection. They have also focused on leveraging virtual communication channels such as benefits hubs, interactive benefits materials and other resources to ensure employees have the information they need, where and when they need it.
With more than 4 in 10 Americans reporting that they delayed or avoided care as a result of COVID-19, many employees are just now starting to venture back into the world of health care after a year away. Brokers have a significant opportunity to help clients reduce the stresses of navigating this complex industry for their clients’ employees, but it will require creative thinking and expanded services. Those that rest on their laurels during this critical period will find themselves falling behind the competition.
Kim Buckey is vice president of client services with DirectPath. She may be contacted at [email protected].